Book Review: The good parts of this book are REALLY GOOD. And basically all the good parts are the ones focusing on the eponymous protagonist Melanie. She is an absolute delight to read. She reminds me very much of Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres of HPMoR. Prodigious, with tons of book-smarts, but no idea about social conventions or how to relate to other people.
And very very isolated from the world, due to her captivity by the military. We realize quickly that Melanie has never seen the outside world. Here’s a fantastic depiction of a super-smart kid with huge gaps in her knowledge trying to describe a new object her teacher has brought in from the outside world:
> The big stick breaks into smaller sticks, and again and again, so there’s more and more of them, like breaking down a great big number in the long list of its prime factors.
“It’s a branch,” Joanne says.
The entire first part of the book is full of this sort of stuff, and it’s a delight to watch. Plus Melanie has the most adorable puppy-crush on her teacher. And we get more and more clues as to what’s going on with this research project and why the outside world seems to be falling to pieces, until at some point the reader realizes what The Thing is, and we go “Ooooooooh shiiiiiit!! That is a really good thing!”
I’m being as vague as I can, because the moment of realization is really cool, and it’s as easy to spoil as “Snape Kills Dumbledore.” You cannot even read most blurbs or reviews without risking spoilers. So try to avoid those. It’s worth it.
That being said, about a quarter of the way through the book the focus shifts away from Melanie. She and a handful of adults (both scientists and soldiers) escape from the military facility, and after that the book becomes pretty boring. It has a few bright spots here and there, but nothing worth the slog.
I mean, it’s not painful or anything. But it’s just the exact same thing we’ve seen a thousand times before. Some running, some hiding, some shooting, some yelling. There is nothing new here at all. It’s color-by-numbers. It could be cut-and-paste from any of a thousand shlock stories.
But then we get to the ending, and the ending is once again freakin’ amazing. It’s the bright nova at the end that inverts everything that we were presented with in the first quarter of the novel. A perfect mirroring, and it feels so right!
This book was adapted from a well-regarded short story, and one can tell exactly where the short story ideas are. They are the first quarter of the book. Up to page 150 or so. The ending is a fantastic follow-up to the story itself. But everything else, the 3/4ths that’s in the middle, is basically just filler. It feels like Carey was just running up the word count so he could get a novel out of this, and it’s NOT a novel-length idea!
Unfortunately, with the publishing world being what it is, only novels make money. So if you have a brilliant story idea, the only way to be financially rewarded for it is to write the cool story, and then bloat it with lots of meaningless extra stuff until you’ve got enough mass to sell it as a novel. Bleh.
As published – Not Recommended. But if you read up to the point where they leave the military base, and then skip to the second-to-last chapter (and maybe ask me or someone who’s read it for a quick summary of what happens in between) – Totes Recommended.
Book Club Review: I’m torn on this. It has the benefits of being accessible and fairly easy to read. It’s mostly enjoyable, and there’s several cool things to talk about, as there would be with any good short story. However there isn’t a ton there, because like I said, there’s a lot of filler. On the other hand, that makes a topic in itself, sort of. And also may bring on conversation about the state of the genre in general (the book is a very specific genre that everyone will be extremely familiar with). And the good parts really ARE good. Several people in our book club didn’t mind reading through the formulaic parts.
I guess, since it’s unreasonable to ask a book club to skip the majority of a book, I have to go with Not Recommended. That being said, your mileage may vary, I’m pretty unsure about this one.